On Sunday at the Buick Challenge, there was PGA Tour rookie Jonathan Byrd battling to capture his first tour title, against the likes of Phil Mickelson and David Toms.
As he stepped to the tee at the par-5 7th hole, Byrd was tied for the lead with Toms, who was one group behind, in the final threesome. Jonathan had birdied No. 7 in two of the previous three rounds. He anticipated another. But he blocked his drive and it was headed right of the fairway, towards some of Pine Mountains towering pines.
Ahhh, then love intervened.
As many wives and lovers are wont to do on the Tour, Byrds fiancee - Amanda Talley - was walking with Jonathan, watching his every shot. Thank goodness for Byrd that Amanda is so devoted. Some 270 yards from the tee, his ball took a hard bounce and struck his fiancee right in the back. A new standard for Stand by your Man.
The ball and Amanda both dropped to the ground ' neither the worse for wear. She righted herself and walked into the woods, hoping not to disturb or distract her man.
I asked the crowd if I had hit anybody, Byrd would later explain, and Amanda said, Yes, it hit me near my shoulder.
He asked her if she was OK. She smiled and said yes. He said thank you and then ' with his fortunate lie now clear to the green ' knocked his next shot onto the surface and two-putted for birdie.
She took one for the team, Jonathan said with obvious pride.
His fortuitous birdie gave Byrd a lead he would never relinquish. Up ahead, Mickelson ' the No. 1 player in the world ' was putting on a back-nine run that would temporarily get him within two strokes of Byrd. But Amandas fiancee would put on a charge of his own and Phil would finish third.
I think having all of these first-time winners all of these great young guys, Mickelson said, is great for our tour.
The 24-year-old Byrd snared the trophy with a Mickelson-like run. Starting on the par-5 11th, Byrd went eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle. Five putts in five holes. Seven-under-par in five holes. Ive never had a stretch like that before, the champ would say.
At the end of that blistering eagle-birdie barrage, Byrd was 28-under par and held a five-stroke lead over Toms. But within minutes, the lead was down to two. As Jonathan made his only bogey of the round on the par-3 16th, Toms was on his way to an eagle of his own on No. 15. A three-stroke swing, the lead down to two.
Toms, the 1999 Buick Challenge champion, missed a 12-footer for birdie on 16, but got one on 17 to cut the lead to just one stroke, shortly after Byrd had finished his round with two pars. Did Jonathan feel any pressure from two greats such as Toms and Mickelson charging towards him?
'No, he answered, I felt like I was always charging them my mind-set was to just keep making birdies.
When Toms missed his 15-foot birdie try on the final hole, Byrd was the winner.
Thats the story of my year, said Toms, I just couldnt scrape in enough putts to win. He has now finished second three times on the 2002 Tour.
Toms did see this coming, though. He met Byrds parents in an elevator at the players hotel at the Honda Classic. I told them, to be patient Jonathan was such a good player, it was only a matter of time before he won, Toms recounted.
So Byrd becomes the record 17th first-time winner on the PGA Tour this year. In so doing, he earns $666,000 and brings his season total to nearly $1.4 million.
The wedding of Jonathan Byrd and Amanda Talley is November 30, just days away. Good timing to earn the 666-grand right now?
Oh yeah, the groom-to-be said. Weddings are expensive.